We are always curious to see how professional photographers handle our software solutions. This time, we crossed paths with Chad Ziemendorf based in North Dakota (US) who revealed us some of his secrets to create stunning panoramic photography with Autopano Giga.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? I am a professional photographer based in North Dakota, traveling throughout the United States for corporate, technology and architectural clients. My photography career began as a photojournalist with the San Francisco Chronicle and Reuters and evolved to commercial photography in 2012. Three-quarters of my assignments are for law firms, architects or Silicon Valley technology companies, and the balance is fine-art commissions (which I love!).
What drew you to panoramic photography rather than other photography styles? First, I am addicted to detail; I love zooming in to 100% to discover intricate surprises pixel-by-pixel, so I invested in a Phase One Medium Format system and continue to upgrade my system almost every time they release a new back. Second, I love capturing pictures that recreate the experience of what it felt like to see an incredible vista in real-life, which is why most of my fine-art commissions are printed 8 – 12 feet across.
What would you like people to think or feel as they view your panoramic images? It is an honor to know that people get “lost” in my images. If my images cause someone to pause and forget their stress, if even for a few seconds, it could change the trajectory of their day in a positive way. Our lives are increasingly hectic and bombarded by (mostly useless) information every minute of every day, I think its necessary to find our own oasis of peace so that we don’t get overwhelmed by what the world is throwing at us.
Could you explain your workflow? I’ll explain the workflow of “Centennial Sun” since it involved the most planning and had the most moving pieces.The first step was research with my PhotoPills and Sun Surveyor app. Based on my geographic location and the time of year, the Milky Way’s galactic center appeared in the South, but slightly Southwest. The sun was obviously setting in the west but slightly to the south. Therefore, in order to capture a scene that incorporated both sunlight and the milky way, I needed to find a beautiful vista that faced Southwest. The second step was scouting. I took a day to explore the Badlands and identify possible shooting locations without caring about light or time of day, I only looked for interesting vantage points facing southwest that offered a lot of visual variety. When I found my spot, I checked the weather and was happy to see that the very next day offered perfect conditions. So, the next afternoon, I hiked out to the Badlands with some snacks, a camping chair, my photo gear, sandbags to weigh down my tripod, water and bear spray (I don’t think there’s any bears in the ND Badlands, but definitely mountain lions, an occasional wolf and coyotes. The coyotes don’t usually bother humans but who knows if I cross paths with a desperate or grumpy one). Since the closest parking area was more than 1.5 miles away from my shooting location, I opted to make one trip and carry everything at once (I figured that’s what Teddy Roosevelt would do). I brought so much stuff because I would be stationary in the same position for more than 11 hours (capturing the same picture over and over as the sun moved across the sky and transitioned to night). I set up my tripod in a secure location at the edge of a butte (a sizable cliff-like hill made of clay and grass), and anchored it down with my sandbags so it was secure. Then, once my camera angle was perfect (never to be swiveled again for the rest of the shoot) I started making pictures every 20 minutes or so, shifting my Phase One IQ3 100MP side-to-side on my Alpa MAX for each picture. All in all I captured hundreds of frames that day, but chose 11 images to create the final composite that you see here. I selected those 11 images based on quality of light, time of day, details in the frame, etc. It wasn’t an exact science, there were many times where I would start masking in a layer, spend 20-30 minutes trying to make it look awesome, then discard that layer altogether and start over because I felt I could do better. There was probably 20 hours of compositing and retouching that went into this image once photography was complete.
What features of Autopano Giga do you like the most? That’s easy – the batching feature! It is so refreshing to load multiple images into Autopano Giga and then let it do its thing! Especially for this project that I described here, because I created dozens of panos before selecting the final 11 images that I would composite into the final picture. I needed to see many complete panoramic images first before deciding if they had a place in the final work of art.
What have you learned from your extensive experience in panoramic photography that you could share with our readers? Be patient and take risks! Discovery comes with process. For me, my favorite creative ideas are born from the process. I rarely know what I want my final image to look like when I begin, I simply start. Photographer and designer Jerry Takigawa said that creatives “who are able to be present in the creative void – that open space between what is and what could be – thrive in that space, even they are uncomfortable.” I take comfort in this because I’ve always been more afraid of being stagnant than being wrong. Ask yourself “Why am I doing what I am doing?” If your answer is “Because I can’t help it,” then you’re on the right track. Being ruthlessly true to yourself and the process of discovery is the only way to experience the fullness of creativity. And by being that true to yourself you’ll be doing something that only you can do.